Sunday, November 27, 2022

Life's Little Injustices (Take XIX): Hey, AT&T Greedheads: You're Scrambling My Budget!


<Cover art:>

Not so long ago, I found myself rereading The Saga Of Hawkwind (2004), written by the late Carol Clerk. If you haven't come across it, by all means, check it out: it's a fantastically written, 500-page epic history of the Founding Fathers of space rock, as they're commonly called. 

Clerk dishes out everything you ever wanted to know about Hawkwind, but didn't know what to read, or where to ask. At its core, it's a narrative defined by 50-odd years of constant lineup changes, and dueling egos, often working at cross purposes, amid the usual music biz skulduggery, with one constant (guitarist Dave Brock) at the center of the vortex.

Some of the most relevant tidbits happen when Clerk explores various aspects of the industry that make it hard for musicians to stay afloat. As Brock himself notes in the last chapter ("Dave Brock: God, Satan...Or Just The Captain Of The Ship?"): "The trucking companies are getting more than I'm getting on a tour.

"The rock 'n' roll business being so corrupt, all these different people, trucking companies, bus companies -- the guy who's driving the bus wants 
£10 food and £30 per diem, and he's paid to drive the bus.  It's all these things around the periphery which piss me off."

After revisiting that passage, all I can say is: Dave, you have my deepest sympathies, as I know the feeling. I got a fresh reminder of this phenomenon last week, after my phone bill landed in my mailbox.

<"Sick 'N' Tired, 
So Sick 'N' Tired..."
The Reckoner>

This is how crazy it gets 'round the periphery: last month, I had a $3.46 credit. This month, I'm starting down a bill of $236 and some change. 

See, when November started, I'd paid two months' worth of bills, because I'd fallen behind. C
halk it up to that cost of living/inflation thing everyone's going on about lately, so when I got a surplus of 200-some-odd bucks, I'd promptly paid it, to get caught up. 

That mess started around the second week in October, when I tried calling the doctor, and got a nonstop dial tone. I realized something was up, as a panic-stricken email from my supervisor confirmed ("Your phone has been busy all day. Please call me, I can't get through"). I wound up calling AT&T, who duly confirmed they'd cut me off. 

I don't recall getting a disconnect notice, I protested. Of course, you got it, the rep stoutly maintained. Once upon a time, they called to pester you, whenever you fell behind; now, they've switched back to paper notices, apparently. Whatever.

In the end, I borrowed from my supervisor to get the phone back on. Of course, that meant having to repay her, forcing me to repurpose another amount intended for something else. That's how it works around the periphery: one domino topples another, creating a ripple effect that scrambles your budget.

Of course, the chaos came during a particularly busy week. I didn't really have time to fight it, let alone think about it, so I did what anybody in this boat does. "Right," I told myself. "Here's your $110, and some change. Now please go away." And that's the last thought I gave it, essentially. That is...until the new bill arrived.

<"Thank You For Your Business..."
The Reckoner>

Lo and behold, that $236 amount jumped right out at me. "What's going on here, then?" I ask myself. A quick scan confirms my worst fears. Apparently, they've whacked on a $30 reconnection charge, which they told me was coming. I can live with that, I suppose.

Guess what, though? They've whacked on $30 and $50 sums for a pro-rating of the bill. Say what? How or why that happened, I'm not sure but I'm still on the hook for it, so I'll have to let it slide. It's not like there's a Phone Bill Appeals Board to hear my case.

By the time you include the inevitable taxes ($11.74), they've added $129 on an otherwise unremarkable monthly bill of $100 or so. Luckily for me -- if that's the right word -- I can spread the cost over a couple weeks, and minimize some of the damage. Sure, a couple more dominos will topple, but it's the beginning of the month, and I'm getting paid again. All's well that ends well, right?

I suppose, but it pisses me off, all the same. It's all part and parcel of the corruption around the periphery of Big Business, as in, "We know you're hurting, so guess what? It's time to squeeze you a little harder." It's the same mentality that you see with local governments, when they whack the cost of somebody's forced lawnmowing bill onto their taxes. Or water bills that they're struggling to pay, because they're double the local average. Or retroactively compounding interest, as many student loan borrowers discover, to their everlasting regret.

The same story holds true at the grocery store, where the Squawker and I spent $350 -- literally, half my paycheck -- to avoid making the trip for another couple weeks A loaf of bread? Ka-ching!  $5.89. A jar of mayonnaise? Ka-ching! $5.49. Eight-ounce package of sliced turkey lunch meat? Ka-ching! $4.29. A bag of onions? Ka-ching! $2.99. A bag of tomatoes on the vine? Ka-ching! $5.66. And so on, and so forth.

God knows what everything will cost next time, as prices like these keep on rocketing upward. Even a meal out, to give you a break from cooking, averages 25 to 40 bucks in this town. But there's the dirty little secret, right? It doesn't cost them $30 to turn your phone back on, anymore than it costs $350 per person to get your food on the grocery shelf. A lot of this stuff is just the banksters making out like bandits. Because they are bandits. 

Even after a catastrophic global pandemic, we're still left where we started, of agitating for change that most people 
see as long overdue, and desperately needed. That is, anyone who isn't a rich right wing greedhead, like a certain rogue billionaire who just bought a certain media platform, that a certain rogue ex-President publicly poo-poohs interest in reclaiming. They're fine with all the chaos and crap that they've stirred up. 

In one sense, I guess I could consider myself fortunate, in that I can generate income beyond my day job to deal with these problems. But in another sense, I'd say, "Maybe not," since the same greasy global shuffle is going on -- or, as Don Letts says, in "Outta Sync," the teaser for his forthcoming solo album: 

"Predictions of dystopia? 
Three jobs to pay the rent.
The threat of just a few degrees? 
We're talking two percent." 

We'll find out how close to reality those predictions come, as dire as they are. Because, you see, that's another collateral consequence of life on the periphery -- we usually know what's going down before everyone else does. 

We feel the social ills first; when things fall apart, we're first to catch cold. When things finally rebound, we're the last to catch up. Because, unlike everybody else, we don't exactly get to shop till we drop. See you at the checkout line. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry, 
Grab Your Ticket Outta Babylon
Because It's Burnin' Red Hot, Hot Hot...):

Don Letts: Outta Sync (Official Video):


  1. Conversations in local checkout lines hint it might be time to restore "home economics" to school curricula, subtitled "how to live cheap but good." Feeding a family now requires more savy than some kids can pick up at home -- found myself explaining to a young mother how powdered milk "works" (meanwhile eyeing the bags of chips in her cart).

  2. Well, she could have bought the chips for someone else, or to supplement whatever she needed for her weekly bridge group, or the party that she was planning. How would you know? Short of asking the source, you don't.

    For that reason alone, I refrain from making morally-tinged commentary on whatever people have in their cart. I don't appreciate it when others do it to me, so I leave that sort of thing alone. Young moms get enough stick from this brutalistic, materialistic society as it is, so let's make like Burger King -- hold the judgments, please, until we know a bit better about what's going on with that person So that's one thought.

    Restoring home economics classes would be a good thing, to boost peoples' self-sufficiency, but with so many entities take such blatant advantage -- as I've outlined above -- I doubt it would make a major difference.

    This is why I see so many people buying pre-cooked, and/or frozen items, because so many dishes require buying so many different ingredients -- and those are rocketing up in cost, too! Thanks for writing. ---The Reckoner

  3. The young mum wanted to talk to us old aunties about school lunches for the kiddies (hence the chips). Fear not, we did not point out that a bag of chips costs $1/oz; a tub of frozen "seasoned" mash, $5/lb; and a bag of russet jacket potatoes, $1/lb.
    I did tell the tale of my Old World grandmother sending papa to school with Eschenkartoffeln in each pocket: potatoes that baked overnight in the woodstove ashes. The kids cracked them open and ate them with salt at recess.
    I didn't get to know that good mama of a multitude -- which is why I don't know how to cook on a wood stove or skin a rabbit. Pity, because as you keep pointing out, knowledge is power.
    Keep up the good work!